The Brain Science of Parenting
Breathe. We all make mistakes. Donald Winnicot coined the term “the good enough parent” in recognition of the well researched idea that in the overall context of secure, loving parenting, the mistakes we make as parents actually provide our children with opportunities to grow MORE resilient and prepared for life’s inevitable challenges. The chances are that the mere fact you are reading this means you are a “good enough parent”.
But, you may be reading this as an adult who didn’t have “good enough” parenting, or as a parent who knows, “I can do better, I can be better.” You aren’t alone.
For a long time we were told by experts that “mental” illness is hereditary and genetic in a way that made things seem locked in, fated, out of our conscious control. Thankfully, we know, now, that is not the case. The brain is marvelously plastic (changeable) and so are our genes. The field of epigenetics - “before the gene” - tells us that we have the genetic potential for every possible experience and that the environment around the gene signals what gene potentials get turned on or turned off.
The “environment” means not only the air we breathe, but more importantly perhaps is the neurobiochemical conditions around our cells that literally feed the building blocks of who we become each and every moment. People say, “we are what we eat”, but really, “we are what we are.” We are feeding our cells 24-7 with a neurobiochemical cocktail that literally creates who we are. This neurobiochemical cocktail is primarily a result of our state of being, which we largely experience as our “emotions.”
Not only is emotion a neurobiochemical stew, but it also is a frequency with electrical charge. Please don’t dismiss this as hippy dippy new age speak, but we are talking about “vibes.” EEGs and EKGs are measuring the electrical current of our brain and heart. These are the two largest electrical instruments in our body and our entire nervous system is electric. Even less well known, but certainly gaining great attention and popularity is scientific recognition of the “brain” in our guts.
Anything that is electric emits and is influenced by waves, current, charge. As we grow older we develop a “standing wave” of our own, a personality structure that has habitual signature signals. To a certain degree this consistent signature is able to ward off influence from “other” and maintain its dominant tone. This can be a “for better or worse” principle.
But when we are younger, from conception to about age 7, we lack the neurological hardware to filter our experience to the same degree and our nervous system’s are mostly at influence of the environment around us. The parts of our head, heart and guts that are most prevalent in these developmental stages act a lot like tuning forks and are likely to come into “harmony” with the more dominant heads, hearts and guts of the adults we are most often around. Again, this is a “for better or worse” principle.
Kids don’t understand language or reason as much as they FEEL the state of being that we are electronically transmitting through our brain, heart and gut waves. Again, I implore you not to dismiss this as new age speak. Our “vibrations” are BY FAR the primary form of communication our children receive. And, they simply cannot help but be tuned, just like a guitar, to experience and express a similar tone of being that we most consistently transmit - again for better or for worse.
So, parents, the #1 thing we can do for our kids is learn to regulate our state of being and spend more and more time in “thriving mode” and less and less time in “surviving mode.”
What we say matters far, far less than how we say it. If we are regularly experiencing states of anxiety, depression, anger, frustration, worry, “stress” etc, then so too are our children. We not only owe it to ourselves to learn how to change our our state of being, but we owe it to them as well.
Our own emotional hygiene is perhaps our #1 responsibility as a parent.
And, if you are feeling like beating yourself up right now for transmitting less than ideal states to your kids, I will remind you once more that you are most likely a “good enough” parent, and while we can all do and be better, our kids are more resilient than we often give them credit for. Plus, if you spend time beating yourself up then you are just making it more likely your kids will learn to do the same, so STOP IT ! :)
Lastly, if you are feeling like you are a product of “not good enough” parenting, all the best science out there tells us that it is truly NEVER too late to start consciously changing the frequency our head, heart and guts and the neurobiochemical stew that feeds our cells. It may be a useful first step to compassionately recognize, and perhaps grieve the past, but staying stuck in states of resentment and blame only serves to perpetuate the trauma. We can create a new future by not RE-acting the past. I won’t disrespect you by lying: it is NOT easy. Old habits ARE hard to break, but is most definitely possible and absolutely worth the effort. We have created an online community of support for people who are doing the work. Join us in an effort to rewire our heads, hearts and guts because “Even if, aside from, and especially because bad stuff happens, we choose to be #wholehearted.”